Two weeks ago, we left Lucca, Tuscany!

We got back from Italy two weeks ago and it’s hard to believe it! Our favorite meals and part of our trip was in Lucca.

On our last day of vacation, we explored more of Lucca. We had a wonderful breakfast buffet in our bed and breakfast, La Romea14463168_805680962212_8088265215643267060_n made by the host’s mother. Our host suggested another great restaurant for lunch too.

First, we went up the nearby Torre Guinigi (a tower with trees on top) to see Lucca from up above before 14479632_805681860412_1504338499767170563_n  touring the Cathedral of San Martino and walking the walls around the town.  14440935_805684574972_8415438116148072558_n Inside San Martino, there’s the “Sleeping Beauty” tomb that is so beautiful, there’s an urban legend that single ladies rub the nose for good luck, and in hopes of meeting their future husbands. 14462890_805684684752_7313612262319336910_n I liked the painted ceilings, especially over the altar. 14370101_805684704712_8797992724567790587_n 14390710_805684859402_3542697954917504580_n

For lunch, we had an amazing Tuscan feast at Trattoria da Ubaldo. In this goth, rock and roll styled restaurant, 14469682_805685792532_1404321614716240668_n we had delectable chick peas 14457289_805685897322_559927644705074898_n and peppers, as well as the traditional Lucchesi dish, tordelli, 14470436_805685852412_7526009934855775682_n which is similar to ravioli. The owner looked exactly as he does on the menu and 14484656_805685847422_6275614827224872831_n the wine bottle label! He totally looked like a gothic biker, pirate!

14469472_805837857792_6017284883593105659_n On our circuit around the town, we saw a beautiful botanical garden 14448882_805837897712_3162007815470796516_n and decided to walk in.  14462967_805838207092_4551838483463686280_n Inside, there were many local plants, greenhouses with succulents, and ponds with lily pads. 14440614_805685567982_4622342709753261333_n

In the late afternoon, we left Lucca, by bus back to Pisa, to fly home. It was a great way to see more of the countryside! 14470548_805838935632_2705827509478271328_n We arrived in London after 9pm so we decided to get a good night’s rest instead of going into the city, since we had been on our feet all day around Lucca.

14492353_805839150202_7879508549621896522_n Our flight from London to Seattle went smoothly, including having global entry and making customs a breeze. We bypassed nearly a thousand people in line, with our global entry pass and got in a super short three person line. The whole process from getting off the plane to getting my parent’s car, took only 10 minutes. Global entry was the best purchase we made on our vacation. I highly recommend it to everyone and it also includes TSA pre-check!

The most comical part on our return, is that we had to hike into our neighborhood, when my parents dropped us off! The city was resurfacing our street, so my parents had to drop us off two blocks from our house. It was a rather fun and ironic way to end our vacation!

Lucca!

It’s hard to believe that we got home from Italy a week ago!

After several days in Cinque Terre, we took the train for a short stay in Tuscany before flying home. 14462915_805550922812_4149721723144403262_n We changed trains in La Spezia and Viareggio before arriving on the outside of the walled town of Lucca.

Fun fact: the walls around Lucca are 4km, or approximately 2.5 miles, and are now used as a promenade around the town. Seattlites may compare this to the 2.8 mile path around Green Lake.

Mr F and I loved spending a day and night in Lucca. Our accommodations, at the La Romea Bed and Breakfast14469476_805593362762_5528839897463212748_n were fun and spacious, and the host, Giulio, was super helpful. We enjoyed his restaurant recommendations immensely and thanks to him, had our some of our best meals in Italy. We had the Blue Room, which had frescos on the ceiling 14359166_805551446762_399185931823395807_n and a huge bathroom overlooking a church. Giulio told us there were 99 churches in Lucca!

Our first order of business in Lucca was to try the local food. Cecina is a garbanzo bean crepe 14359197_805551661332_752449757416269427_n and a Lucchesi specialty, plus the best place to try it (Pizzeria Da Felice) was a few doors down from our room! It was the perfect snack and healthy too!

We spent the afternoon in Lucca wandering inside the city walls, through Napoleon’s sister’s (the Princess of Lucca’s) palace grounds, 14368621_805592664162_1336268666550091615_n viewing neat statues, and the town amphitheater. My favorite place was the Basilica of San Frediano, with its beautiful golden mosaic. 14440633_805592828832_7423556768817275320_n

Later as we walked to dinner, we heard a Puccini concert from a nearby church!  14469453_805592584322_384505747300321730_n   (Side note: Puccini, the Italian composer of Madame Butterfly, and other opera standards, was born and raised in Lucca!)

Our best meal in Italy was in Lucca, at Ristorante Giglio. (Giglio means lily, which reminded us of our cat!) 14390671_805593452582_6328259852912207912_n We had a lovely table in the courtyard and had a phenomenal bottle of Chianti with our first course, 14358878_805593437612_2632651674644493852_n  of Polpo croccante, melanzane e dragoncello. 14448944_805593472542_5825665313623417660_n The plating was striking and the octopus was perfectly cooked! We also found out that eggplant puree and basil pairs excellently with octopus. 14222315_805593542402_5926433826901611910_n The restaurant had the best service and when I asked if we could move inside, since I was getting bug bites, they moved our actual table inside, because all the other tables were taken! 14448882_805593517452_917601373914837587_n The frescos and chandeliers inside were amazing, in addition to the mouthwatering primi course of 14449843_805593537412_4449029045634717651_n tortelli au ragu (stuffed pasta similar to ravioli) and the spectacular secondi course of Bistecca alla fiorentina. 14358832_805593632222_6017758406892763565_n  Steak florentine is a wood-fired porterhouse steak that they only serve rare, or mid rare. We typically like cotto or well done, but this was the Italian experience and it was delectable. We also found out that our last name of Fette, means slices in Italian!

To top off a wonderful, last official dinner in Italy, we had the Panna cotta al sesamo, caramello salato, mela verde, avena e lapsang souchong. 14449028_805593657172_1507902341629036708_n The sesame flavored panna cotta with caramel, green apple, oats, and tea syrup was easily the best panna cotta I’ve ever had, but also the most complex flavored dessert that I’ve ever appreciated.

It was amazing being in a smaller city where the service and presentation are at a very high level of excellence. All of our dishes were beautiful as well as delicious, very reasonably priced, plus the sommelier was incredibly helpful and helped us find the best wine of our trip! We enjoyed the Chianti with dinner and tried a bottle of Brunello Risvera for the next day!brunello We’d love to return to Tuscany and spend more time in small towns, like Lucca. I highly recommend this town to anyone who’d like to visit Italy.

Top 10 Cinque Terre Tips

1. Visit each of the 5 towns and note the differences! My recommended order is Monterusso, Vernazza, Riomaggore, Manarola then Corneglia, going from busiest to most relaxed towns. The train and water taxi are priced similarly, so I recommend both options.

Riomaggiore from the water taxi

Riomaggiore from the water taxi

2. Move base camps, staying a few nights in each town, in addition to day tripping to Portoverne, by water taxi. We adored our Aria di Mare room with a patio in Manarola. 14390675_804617398602_7290652896719854642_n I highly recommend staying here. 14364723_804614519372_425347319447043177_n

3. All the vino bianco (house white wine) is shockingly good, but consider  14448808_805287730252_6734439248593193465_n    splurging on the single vineyard Cinque Terre white wines, to try the difference. img_7183 While in Vernazza, try the Vineria Santa Marta. They have 3 Cinque Terre wines in their tasting and the brushchetta is wonderful too!

4. Try the fresh anchovies, since it’s a regional specialty, however, it’s unlikely to win you over canned anchovies, if you’re not a fish person.

5. At most restaurants, pasta is the supreme choice and secondi (entrees) are not given as much priority or presentation. You must try the spaghetti al pesto 14370356_805020231322_3483084539749973574_n and if you’re adventurous, try the spaghetti nero (squid ink black pasta with seafood!) img_6934  We thought the best presentation was at Trattoria dal Billy in Manarola.

(Side note: it would be very difficult to be gluten free and eat well in Cinque Terre, unless you exclusively ate seafood and only had coffee for breakfast.14333730_805277545662_769157491905239618_n I rarely saw fruit and yogurt as an option for breakfast. Eggs are not an Italian thing.) 14364803_805277500752_5380460152359192664_n

6. Always try restaurants off the beaten path and with more Italians than tourists eating inside. We had a great experience at Osteria Baracco, near Cinque Terre in Portoverne, and were super happy we ordered in Italian! 14354896_805287680352_4137932634649450375_n

7. Try stuffed mussels and all the fresh seafood that you can! 14441082_805288848012_2342129749336324368_n

8. Swim in the Ligurian Sea especially in Monterusso and Manarola! Bonus points for swimming in all 5 towns! We swam in 4 of the 5 since Corneglia isn’t directly on the water but one could swim near the train station.

9. Hike between at least two towns. We hiked between Manarola, Volestra and Corneglia and it was a vigorous hike for us, with our 35-40 lb backpacks. 14292251_805018390012_6046303426147600117_n Via Della Amore between the towns was closed but I hear this is a less strenuous hike and shorter too!

10. If you’re busy and you want lunch on the go, the Ligurian region is the birth place of focaccia. It’s thinner and more varied than anything I’ve had in the US! We frequently grabbed a focaccia with different toppings, or piece of pizza mid-day, or for a snack! 14390937_804614788832_5608074694926474075_n

 

 

Monterusso is a must!

Wow, Monterosso is our favorite Cinque Terre town and we wish we had visited it sooner! We took the water taxi from Vernazza to Monterusso OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfor the day and it was so much fun. We walked through the markets, windy cobblestone streets that were surprising not has steep as the other Cinque Terre towns,  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and got pizza before going to the West side of town and renting an umbrella and chairs. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It was totally worth paying for the space because there were very few people and a spectacular view. The warm was perfect and we could swim along the shoreline for 40 minutes end to end without obstruction! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We highly recommend that anyone wanting to vacation in Cinque Terre get a room in this town, especially if they’re interested in beach time!

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This is the perfect beach setting and the weather was equally as nice!

On the South end of the beach, there was a World War II bunk in the rocks OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA that also had a great view, especially from the top!

We didn’t want our amazing beach day to end, but when we ran out of water, we decided to go back to Vernazza, to change for dinner.

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On the water taxi back from Monterusso

img_7635 Before dinner, Mr. F and I had fun taking pictures of the main piazza of Vernazza from our room! It was like playing, Where’s Waldo?

My college room mate, Emily, recommended this place!

For dinner, we returned to the lovely Ristorante di Castello for a great table and excellent service. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This time we tried the pesto lasagna and the frutti di mare! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA My absolute favorite things on the menu is the dessert. We had the tiramisu last time as well as the pistachio mousse, so this time we got the coffee cake and the mousse again! This is one of top favorite desserts of the trip! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Dinner at Ristorante di Castello one more time!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Our last sunset in Vernazza was beautiful and we couldn’t be happier!

Portoverne Highlights!

Our day trip Portoverne may have been one of our most favorite parts of our vacation. We took the water taxi from Vernazza at 10am (because apparently that’s the earliest option….)

Excited to get on the ferry!

Excited to get on the ferry!

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Vernazza before 10am...turns out nothing opens until 8am, not even coffee shops

Vernazza before 10am…turns out nothing opens until 8am, not even coffee shops

stopping in Manarola and Riomaggore before arriving in Portoverne before 11am.

The rugged landscape, along the Cinque Terre coastline, looked windswept with the old volcanic flows of basalt dotted with cactus. However as we got closer to Portoverne there were more interesting fortifications!

The Castle in Portoverne

The Castle in Portoverne

We sat on the bow and had the best view of each harbor including the prominent castle above Portoverne.

In Portoverne, we proritized walking the castle grounds

Above Castello Doria

Above Castello Doria

before going on a quick three island ferry at noon to see more of the surrounding area of Portoverne. We loved the red lighthouse high on Palmeria,

Lighthouse on Palmeria

Lighthouse on Palmeria

and the World War II bunkers. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After the boat trip, we wanted to find a non-touristy place for lunch in Portoverne and we totally lucked out by ducking into a restaurant, called Osteria Baracco, off of the beaten path.

We were a little intimidated since it seemed like no one spoke English so we ordered vino bianco, insalata greca and the first pizza on the menu!

We guessed that muscoli was mussels but otherwise had no idea what we ordered!

We guessed that muscoli was mussels but otherwise had no idea what we ordered!

Mussels and eggplant make for an amazing combination on pizza!

Mussels and eggplant make for an amazing combination on pizza!

We had an amazing pizza and ingredients that we’d never thought to combine together!

After lunch, we noticed young people swimming near the castle and thought why not?

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Swimming below Castle Doria in Portoverne

It was a wonderful temperature and way to see the castle from a different perspective. There was a protected cove that we swam in so we had no issues with currents!

We took the water taxi back to Cinque Terre, stopping in Riomaggore for an hour. We saw a bride posing for pictures around town and we went swimming!

Riomaggore (pronounced rio-major-ey)

Riomaggore (pronounced rio-major-ey)

 

Swimming in Riomaggore

Swimming in Riomaggore 

Once we got back to Vernazza we were tired but tried to get a table at Ristorante Belaforte on a friend’s recommendation but there was a huge line and they weren’t taking reservations. Again, we lucked out because we walked up to the other end of town, and had a unobstructed view of the sunset for dinner.

Above Vernazza

Above Vernazza

The service was bad but we had fun anyway! The stuffed mussels and sparkling rose were perfect with the sunset!

The phenomenonal view from Bar la Torre

The phenomenal view from Bar la Torre

Mussels stuffed with ricotta and garlic!

Mussels stuffed with ricotta and garlic!

After sunset from Bar la Torre

After sunset from Bar la Torre

There were no lights on the path back to town, so we carefully picked our way down the rocky steps using the light on my camera (which was very dim) but we fortunately made it down without any twisted ankles or any other issues.

I can’t wait to tell you all about Monterusso and Lucca next!

 

 

Bruschetta & spaghetti al pesto

I highly recommend pesto bruschetta and spaghetti al pesto from Cinque Terre. Yesterday, we got hungry at 5pm and most restaurants are not open for dinner until 7pm, so we got bruschetta with a local wine in Vernazza. Pesto is apparently a regional specialty of Liguria. It’s fresh and lively and so much more flavorful than I’ve had before!

Pesto and tomato bruschetta for the win

Pesto and tomato bruschetta for the win

Tasting local vino bianco

Tasting local vino bianco

The fresh ingredients on the rustic bread went perfectly with our wine too. We tried local varietals including vermentino, bosco, and sciacchetrà. img_7183 They were crisp and refreshing on a warm day, similar to a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

We went to Ristorante de Castello for dinner

A table with a view

A table with a view

Sunset from Ristorante di Castello

Sunset from Ristorante di Castello

Mr F's frutti de mare

Mr F’s frutti de mare

Spaghetti al pesto

Spaghetti al pesto

and enjoyed the spaghetti al pesto so much that we’ll return when they’re open again on Thursday. The simple, fresh ingredients in these pasta dishes really make them shine. I love how they’re all olive oil versus cream based and smaller than the average American Italian dish. Monica, the owner, was so happy that we made additional reservations that she gave us 10% off too!

We loved their pistachio mousse for dessert and can’t wait to try more of their confections soon. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hiking and gelato

We woke up early on our third day in Italy and hiked from Manarola through Volestra to Corneglia which took over two and half hours and we had our heavy 35-40 pound backpacks on. The views were expansive and totally worth it.

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Manarola on the start of our hiking trip

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The steep terraced vineyards surrounding Manarola

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Above Manarola

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Halfway to Volestra

We saw several tourists on the trails and between Manarola and Volestra, we met many Americans but more German and British hikers as we approached Corneglia. There was a fun group of single ladies from the US and Canada that we kept leap frogging between Manarola and Corneglia and their guides even gave us a focciceria recommendation for lunch!

Miele (honey) and peach rosemary gelato for me and Mr F got basil with piscastios and ricotta!

Miele (honey) and peach rosemary gelato for me and Mr F got basil with piscastios and ricotta!

After our quick foccacia pizza for lunch, we got gelato, for the first time this trip! Since the hike from Corneglia was another 2 hours, we decided  to take a train to Vernazza.img_7011

Our feet were pretty tired since the majority of the trail was rocky so the short train ride was really nice. We checked into RooMartina (which was recommended by my college room mate, Emily) -!: immediately went swimming!

Swimming in Vernazza after hiking felt glorious!

Swimming in Vernazza after hiking felt glorious!

Vernazza's harbor

Vernazza’s harbor

We wandered around town, through Castello Doria, in the late afternoon!

The view from the top of the castle

The view from the top of the castle

Castle Doria

Castle Doria

I’ll have to tell you all about my fantastic bruschetta and Ristoriante al castello experience, next!